Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation (Introduction to Series)

Most of you have probably heard of the 5 Sola’s of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Deo Gloria, but do we even know what these really mean? It seems that a lot of the time we just like our little cliché’s and don’t really understand their importance. These were crucial doctrinal stances concerning Scripture and what it teaches us about God and salvation. It’s important to realize that they mean sometimes mean different things to different denominations and that while Catholics may sometimes claim agreement what they mean is not the same. This is a lot about definitions which can seem nitty-gritty, but definitions matter when it comes to truth. What is grace really? What does the sufficiency of Scripture actually mean? Exactly what role does faith play in our salvation?

The Reformation was a spiritual renewal/revival that occurred in Europe in from the mid-1500’s to mid-1600’s. Prior to this the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was the very dominant (and often the only) “Christian” church in Europe. The problems were many: salvation was attained through works (prayers, confessions, tithes, use of the sacraments, doing good deeds), false teaching (salvation by works again, the sinlessness of Mary, praying to saints) and there was a lot of corruption and abuse of power. Martin Luther is credited with officially kicking-off the Reformation. Originally a committed Catholic monk, he was studying the book of Romans when he realized that salvation was not of works, and that man could not attain salvation through works. Rather it was all of the grace of God through faith in the work of Christ alone. His conversion led to him speaking and writing against the false teaching of the RCC and when he nailed his 95 Theses (statements of disagreement with teachings of the RCC) on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 the Reformation had begun. It then spread to surrounding countries (Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin in Switzerland) and to England through the preaching of John Knox and under King Henry VIII (although he personally had different and very wrong reasons for rejecting Catholicism).

*Picture: The 95 Theses’ Door, Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany. (Amelia Arnold, Spring 2008)

While these 5 solas were not collectively put together until the 20th century the concepts were used by the Reformers themselves in their writing. The two that most often appear together are “Sola Gratia,” (Grace alone) and “Sola Fide” (Faith alone). For example, in 1554 Philip Melanchthon (a friend of Martin Luther) wrote, "only by grace do You justify and only by faith are we justified". All of them, of course, are truths taught in Scripture and you can find all 5 Sola’s in one passage! Check out Romans 3:21-25:

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law (note- it’s not by the law/works) is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (there’s the Scriptures) even the righteousness of God, through faith (there’s faith) in Jesus Christ, (there’s Christ) to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (OK, maybe a stretch here? But at least we can see here God’s glory as the supreme end) being justified freely by His grace (there’s grace) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, (Christ again, but here clearly it’s His work on the cross)…”

In a response to the RCC teaching that salvation = God + man’s work or effort, men like Luther, Calvin and Knox sought to call people to come back to these key truths - that God’s Word alone is our authority, that we are saved not by works but by Christ’s work, and that by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, and all this for His glory alone. These men certainly had their flaws and all their theology was not completely accurate; nevertheless, we should always be grateful they have left us this legacy. In this series I will examine each of these (Grace & Faith together probably), what the Scriptures teach about each one and why they are  important, in fact, why they are worth dying for as many protestants did in the 16th century. Hope you'll enjoy!

To read more on Reformation history see below:

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